A close-up of bluebells

Nature's Calendar: May

And just like that, it’s May. It’s been a glorious start to spring, with many plants flowering earlier than previous years. But who can we expect to spot in our gardens and countryside this month?

Take a gander below, and let us know what you discover. Share your stories and photos with us on our Facebook community.

Swallow perched on a pole, with an insect in its beak

Speedy swallows

To spy a swallow swooping low over water to take a drink or snatch an insect snack is a joy, and now is the perfect time. Keep an eye on overhead telephone wires too, where you’ll often see them gathering. Swallows have glossy navy backs with cream bellies and red chins. Their long, symmetrical tail streamers are a distinctive marker, and are one of the considerations for females when selecting a mate.

 

Building cup-shaped nests of mud and grass, swallows roost under eaves, beams and joists on houses, sheds and barns. They’ll happily move into man-made nests as long as they’re the right shape. When they’ve raised two or three broods of chicks, the swallows leave our shores between September and October, heading back to Africa for the winter.

A skylark signs from a fence post

Skylark

Ground-nesting skylarks will be in peak breeding season now, with the first brood of the season well underway. Head to open countryside, farmland and moorland to spot them. Skylarks are small birds, with a streaky brown colouring. They have a feathery crest on top of their heads, which they can raise when agitated or excited. 


Their song is a cheerful, chirrupy ditty, but it’s their song-flight that they’re renowned for. Rising almost vertically with rapid wing-beats, skylarks then hover in the air while singing, before parachuting downward. They can reach heights of 1,000 feet before descending, and have been known to perform their display flights for up to an hour! 

A single robin perched in a branch singing

Dawn Chorus Day

Sunday 1st May is International Dawn Chorus Day, and what better way to celebrate than to pad outside with a cuppa and celebrate nature’s symphony. Early rising birds such as robins, blackbirds and song thrushes sing at dawn to make the most of the still morning air, which carries sound well. This helps propel their song and increase their chances of attracting a mate or defending their territory. It’s also when food sources, such as insects, are least likely to be available, so the birds make the most of the early morning downtime to sing their little hearts out. Bliss.

Meet our wonderful wanderers

Birds are migrating thousands of miles right now to raise their families in the UK. Click here to find out more about their amazing journeys, and what you can do to help them.

Bluebells

Magical bluebell carpets

If you go down to the woods today…you’ll hopefully be welcomed by a fragrant carpet of bluebells. Flowering from April to May, our native bluebells form swathes of deep violet blooms, sometimes dotted with white or pink. The bluebell is an ancient woodland-indicator, and has long been associated with magic. Two of its common names include fairy flower and witches’ thimbles.

 

Many insects love bluebells as an early source of food. Sometimes bees will nibble a hole in the top of each flower, allowing them to easily poke their proboscis, or tongue, in to sip the nectar. This means they won’t pollinate the flower as they bypass the pollen, but thankfully, bluebells can reproduce both by seed and via bulb propagation.

Close-up on the face of a single tadpole

Tadpoles inbound

As we move into May, frog and toad spawn laid earlier in the year will be developing into tadpoles. Take a peek into a pond or the shallow edge of a lake and you might see tadpoles skittering into the depths. Frog tadpoles are black with brown or gold speckles, while toad tadpoles are all black. Over the next few weeks, the tadpoles will undergo metamorphosis, forming legs, then arms, lungs, and re-absorbing their tail.

 

As the tadpoles develop, their diet changes from algae, leaves and moss to flies, slugs and snails. Incredibly, tadpoles can affect the speed of their metamorphosis. If it’s too cold or if food is plentiful, they can postpone the change. But if predators are rife, or food is in short supply, they’ll speed up their transformation.

A close-up of the back of a broad bodied chaser

Feisty dragons & fierce damsels

It’s almost time for our beloved dragonflies and damselflies to make an appearance. With their intricate wings, vibrant colouring, and (in the case of dragonflies) loud, acrobatic flight, these insects are an awesome sight. Yet today’s dragon and damselflies are miniatures compared to their eagle-sized Jurassic ancestors. As wetland insects, damsel and dragonflies cruise around lakes, rivers and ponds.


Struggling to tell the difference? Damselflies are dainty, with wings that close at rest. Their flight is a more gentle flutter too. Dragonflies are much bigger and chunkier, with wings that remain open at rest. Their flight is loud and impressive - they can fly backwards, hover, and often make hairpin bends at speed!

Nature on your doorstep in May

1. Make your own compost

Discover how to make rich, crumbly compost for your garden or pots for free! You can make a compost pile, bin or bay to suit your space, then simply add uncooked kitchen and garden waste. Create your own with our step-by-step guide to composting.

 

2. Let the grass grow 

Save a little time and leave the mower in the shed for a while. Letting the grass grow will create a haven for wildlife, and you might be surprised at the flowers that can pop up of their own accord! Read our lawn to meadow activity page for inspiration. How long will you grow?